I’m reading George Marsden’s book, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, which I would highly recommend to anyone who does what I do (teach at an evangelical institution of higher learning). This is a fascinating story, and here I just want to note one thing that struck me last night.
Marsden recounts how the founding faculty of Fuller sought to put evangelical scholarship on the map, and he describes E. J. Carnell’s “great triumph” of having his book Christian Commitment: An Apologetic accepted for publication in 1957 by Macmillan in New York (181). As Marsden describes the book and its impact, he writes, “Despite some such critical remarks, Christian Commitment did not even manage to create controversy. As with most books, it was simply noticed and then ignored. Macmillan soon gave up on it and sold off the stock as remainders. To Carnell this failure in big-time publishing was a great blow” (184).
"Noticed and then ignored" . . . "Noticed and then ignored" . . . "Noticed and then ignored."
Let those words rattle around in your mind, and think about how many books you've read, and how many you've "noticed and then ignored."
This raises several questions in my mind. Whose approval are we seeking when we set out to write? What audience do we expect to influence most? And, have we noticed how the writings of others have been received?
I don’t want to be overly spiritual here, but this should remind us again that our aim should always first and foremost be to please the one before whose judgment seat we will stand and give account (2 Cor 5:9–10). Before our Master we stand or fall (Rom 14:4), and only if this reality is supreme for us will the inevitable rejections of life be bearable.
As to the audience where our influence will be greatest, I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Tom Schreiner. I was telling Dr. Schreiner about a scholar I know whose goal it is to “cause liberals to sit up and take notice of evangelical scholarship.” His reply was simply that this scholar needs to realize that his greatest influence is going to be with his students. He went on to observe that scholars almost never change the minds of other scholars, while students are often shaped by their teachers. This is not a statement that we should not hold rigorously to the highest standards of scholarship, it is simply a recognition that this high standard of scholarship will have its greatest impact upon our students. So would your approach to your work change if you thought of it in these terms?
I have read that George Ladd was also crushed when his work was ignored by the left (see the essay on Ladd in this volume). Let’s be realistic about how books, even the best books by the most astute authors, have been received, and let’s always aspire to be pleasing to the Lord.